Rep. Chris Cannon is backtracking from comments he made on a local radio show that Trolley Square gunman Sulejman Talovic yelled "Allah akbar" as he aimed at his victims.
The Republican 3rd District congressman amended his statement late Wednesday after Salt Lake City police insisted the 18-year-old gunman made no such remarks during the shooting rampage that left six people, including Talovic, dead and wounded four others.
Cannon was on KSL News- Radio's "Doug Wright Show" Wednesday morning talking about terrorism and the troop surge in Iraq. On the call-in show, he indicated that peace in the Middle East could mean being able to move away here in the United States from "a kid shouting 'Allah akbar' as he shoots people in Trolley Square," to people thinking more about religion, God and "judgment."
Such changes would lead to a worldwide society that could then have the same opportunities found in the United States, according to Cannon.
After being told that police investigators had not uncovered any evidence to support Cannon's claims, the congressman's spokesman said he now "fully accepts that."
The Arabic phrase "Allah akbar" translated into English means, "God is great." A negative connotation of the phrase became widely known after it was linked to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when Islamic militants hijacked and crashed four commercial jets, causing thousands of American deaths.
A spokesman for Cannon told the Deseret Morning News the congressman was referring to something he heard on the Fox News Channel, where a host claimed "some witnesses" reported hearing Talovic say "Allah akbar" near the end of the shootout.
However, Salt Lake City police insisted Wednesday no evidence has been uncovered so far that points to Talovic's religion being a motive in the killing spree.
"He didn't yell anything of a religious nature or anything that would indicate a religious jihadist," Salt Lake City police detective Jeff Bedard said.
Police would not reveal what exactly Talovic said, but Salt Lake County District Attorney Lohra Miller told reporters at a news conference last week that the 18-year-old gunman was shouting expletives during his shootout with officers.
Salt Lake City police and the FBI have repeatedly said they are aware of no evidence that points to race, religion, politics or terrorism as being a factor in the shooting rampage.
Early Wednesday, Cannon's communications director Fred Piccolo said: "The congressman readily acknowledges that the true motivation for this tragic act may never be known, but the mere possibility, raised in reports airing on Fox News and other outlets, that there could be an ideological motive speaks to the point he made on the 'Doug Wright Show': That terror and fear know no boundaries and must be confronted wherever they threaten us."
Later in the day, the congressman amended his position.
"Chris' comment on Doug Wright's show was part of a broader observation about the need to be aware, both at home and abroad, of ideologies that lead to acts of violence. His reference to the Trolley Square shooting came from seeing a similar reference on Fox News Tuesday. If investigators say the young man made no such statement, Congressman Cannon fully accepts that," Piccolo said in an e-mail to the Deseret Morning News.
Internet blogs, conservative talk shows and others have zeroed in on Talovic's religion as the motive for the crime.
Members of Utah's Muslim community said they do not recall ever seeing Talovic or his family at any services. The Muslim Forum of Utah said Talovic lived a "hermit type of lifestyle" and was not known to be religious. The Islamic Society of the Greater Salt Lake said only a few Bosnians and Serbs attend mosque regularly.
"They came from Europe," Nadeem Ahmed said. "They have their own culture."
Slavojub Josipovic, with the American Bosnian and Herzegovenian Association, said his wife is Muslim but he is not. He said many Bosnian Muslims are more secular and "don't practice too much."
"They are more open. They lived together with Christians and other religions for hundreds of years," he said. "In Bosnia, we celebrate everybody's (religious) holidays."
Josipovic said the war made things more "difficult."
"They tried to separate us," he said. "By religion, different nationalities. It is so mixed in Bosnia you cannot put borders between people."
Ahmed questioned why many have chosen to focus on Talovic's religion, adding that if a killer happens to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, nobody blames the religion."I definitely, personally don't think it's the right way for any of us to look at it (religion,)" he said. "I don't know what this has to do with anything. If he attends (a mosque) or not, he was a very sick person."
Rep. Chris Cannon's brother, Joe Cannon, is editor of the Deseret Morning News.